Are these toxic chemicals in your child’s sunscreen?

By Ruchel Louis Coetzee
Posted On Jul 14, 2017
Are these toxic chemicals in your child’s sunscreen?

By: Ruchel Louis Coetzee

Not all sunscreens are created equal and with summer in full swing, it is important to be informed when it comes to the ingredients in sunscreens, especially for your child. Several plausible research studies are now showing that some toxic chemicals in your child’s sunscreen could pose a threat to your health. If you go to the back of any sunscreen bottle or tube, the first thing you should look for is the section that says “Active Ingredients.” Listed under that section will either be the “good” or the “bad” ingredients.

If it says avobenzone and/or oxybenzone for example, these are toxic chemicals you need to avoid like the plague.

According to Denis K. Dudley MD, a Canadian OB-GYN and endocrinologist who is now retired from practicing Maternal Fetal Medicine and Reproductive Endocrinology at the University of Ottawa in Canada, far safer options are zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide.

In 1991, Dr. Dudley found a soluble UV filter called benzophenone (found in some sunscreens as oxybenzone) in fetal blood drawn for fetal assessment at 32 -36 weeks gestation. That discovery called for further investigation so he promptly asked his wife, dermatologist Sharyn Laughlin, if she was aware that some of these UV filters had found their way into a fetus. She was surprised. “Many MD’s, caregivers and most patients are still unaware that toxic chemicals in your child’s sunscreen such as oxybenzone (benzophenone), avobenzone, homsalate, octisalate, octocrylene, regular octinoxate, 4-methyl benzildene camphor, and others attain blood and tissue levels,” he said. “The CDC (Center for Disease Control) in the USA reported that 96.8% of Americans had benzophenone (oxybenzone) in their urine (Calafat 2008) from its pervasive use of sunscreens and cosmetics. Consumers deserve to know that soluble UV filters cross the placenta and reach a developing fetus. The alternative is to use an insoluble particle based sunscreen with UV filters like zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, encapsulated octinoxate, bemotrizinol, and biscotrizole to name a few. They never enter through intact skin, have no adverse effects on humans or the environment, and arguably give better broad spectrum protection.”

Two years ago, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released its Hall of Shame 2015 sunscreen guide, which reviewed more than 1,700 SPF products like sunscreens, moisturizers and lip balms. The researchers discovered that 80% of the products offered “inferior sun protection or contain worrisome ingredients like oxybenzone and vitamin A”. The EWG referenced two studies, (Rodriguez 2006, Krause 2012) claiming that “oxybenzone can cause allergic skin reactions and may disrupt hormones.” This was their full report; In a 2010 USNEWS article responding to the EWG report, Dr. Henry W. Lim, chairman of dermatology at Henry Ford Hospital was quoted as saying “don’t worry so much about the chemicals…these claims are based on studies with mice…..other research found no significant changes in blood hormone levels in human volunteers who were told to apply sunscreens containing oxybenzone every day for two weeks.”

Dr. Dudley agrees with Dr. Lim and others from the dermatology/industry alliance who says that the data from studies in mice are not pertinent to humans. “They are right but for the wrong reason,” he says. “Hormone receptors in humans have different kinetics. An undetectable or infinitesimally small dose of a foreign chemical binding to a human receptor can have more severe effects than a higher level- depends on timing.” Dr. Dudley was particularly concerned for pregnant woman and small children when it came to soluble filters such as oxybenzone and avobenzone found in some sunscreens. “Mothers with high levels of oxybenzone in their bodies were more likely to give birth to underweight or small for gestation age baby girls (Wolff 2008),” he added. Definitive studies on fetus, however, can never be done. No ethics board would approve it. “Such a study would also be impractical,” said Dr. Dudley. “You would have to take say a 1000 pregnant women (if you could get their consent) and have them apply sunscreen all through pregnancy, then continue the exposure in their offspring until after puberty, then follow these exposed kids into their forties and fifties to see if they develop infertility, uterine fibroids, uterine or prostate cancer, breast cancer, and the diverse other diseases associated with hormone disruption. The analysis would be impossible as you would have to follow the cohort and rule out other confounding variables like exposure to pesticides, phthalates, and other hormone disruptors.” He also added that there is already enough animal and human data available for a prudent physician or parent to err on the side of caution.

So what percentage of an applied dose of a soluble filter would be absorbed into the blood within an hour? “About 5 – 15%,” says Dr. Dudley. “Whatever the amount is – consumers are told to re-apply every 2-3 hours, at the beach and when outdoors, or after perspiring and toweling. Soluble filters wash off more easily and as they are absorbed through the skin, they must be replaced on the surface to have any protective effect. In my opinion, just one day of application every 2 – 3 hours could be harmful to an unborn fetus or a young child.” For the entire family, Dr. Dudley suggests using zinc oxide that is greater than 20% or zinc oxide 15% with 7.5% titanium dioxide or encapsulated octinoxate (E-OMC). These formulations will have no adverse effects on humans or the environment. He is encouraged that Hawaii has just tabled legislation for a complete ban on sunscreens containing benzophenone. He is also not a fan of spray on sunscreens. “It is more difficult to aerosolize particle sunscreens and even the soluble filters require the addition of other noxious agents for this type of delivery,” he said. “Another more compelling reason not to spray is inhalation into the lungs. Even titanium dioxide, a safe particle type filter when applied to intact skin, can cause several adverse effects if inhaled into the lungs.”

Taking all this into consideration, including his extensive research in this field over the years, we asked Dr. Dudley to review a few sunscreens we had on hand.

MD Solar Sciences 30 Mineral Cream: All round the formulation looks good. Has sufficient zinc oxide at 17%. The SPF seems legitimate considering the concentration of actives, although there is an SPF booster in the Butyl Octyl Salicylate. No controversial non-medicinals. (


Shiseido 50+ Wet Force Ultimate Sun Protection Cream: Would need to confirm that the octinoxate in this formula is encapsulated, otherwise a potential endocrine disruptor and allergen. Also fragrance isn’t ideal. (


John Masters SPF 30 Natural Mineral Sunscreen: If I’m looking at the same formula, at 5% zinc oxide and 7.5% TiO2, it doesn’t contain enough zinc oxide. The non-medicinal ingredients look ok though although some dermatologists would take issue with the aloe vera as a possible allergen. (


Baby Bum 30 Premium Natural Sunscreen Lotion: Nice high level concentration of zinc oxide at 22%. Non-medicinals looks ok too other than fragrance. (


We realize this review is only one opinion and we invite the reader to do some additional research especially when it comes to toxic chemicals in your child’s sunscreen. Dr. Dudley encourages parents to apply the medical doctor’s precautionary principle – primum non cocere (first do no harm). We could not agree more.

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